We recently had the opportunity to revisit a favorite California wine region, the Santa Ynez Valley (about 45 miles northwest of Santa Barbara), and the film locations of the 2004 hit movie “Sideways.” That our visit was accentuated by a lovely deal on the nicest hotel we have found in recent years added to our delight.
Let’s start with the movie “Sideways,” filmed in multiple locations in and around Solvang, Las Olivos, Buellton and the Santa Ynez Valley wine region. This is a land of lovely coastal mountains and flowing valleys, yielding world-class wine country – shown off beautifully in the film. Even if you have no interest in the area’s film credits, it’s world-class and immensely scenic wine country. The area specializes in Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc and counts well over 100 wineries in the immediate area.
The movie tells the story of two men in their late 40s who take a weeklong road trip from San Diego to wine country to celebrate the upcoming wedding of serial philanderer Jack (Thomas Hayden Church). Best man Miles (Paul Giamatti), would-be writer and wine-snob, continually denigrates Merlot and extols his love of the local Pinot Noir while working to turn Jack into a oenophile.
During the week, the men meet Stephanie and Maya (Sandra Oh and Virginia Madsen), tour the wineries and partake in elaborate tastings and dinners out. The relationships frame the film; the movie received a host of major awards, including an Academy Award Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Church), and Best Supporting Actress (Madsen).
So take the tour with us, most of it filmed within a 5 mile radius of Buellton and Solvang. Start the tour in Buellton, right on California Highway 1, site of several of the film scenes, including the Windmill Inn, 114 E. Hwy 246, now both renovated and renamed the Sideways Inn and the Hitching Post II restaurant, 406 E. Hwy 246, where Miles introduces Jack to the friendly bartender and later they meet waitress Maya. Nearby is the AJ Spurs Restaurant, 350 E. Hwy 246, where Jack meets waitress Cami, has an overnight fling and is caught in the act by Cami’s husband forcing Jack to flee several miles through an ostrich farm.
Nearby, Solvang was our center of operations for 2.5 days, extravagantly built to look like a Scandinavian Village. Here horse-drawn carriages ferry visitors throughout the city. Visit the Solvang Restaurant, where Miles and Jack begin to see their relationship fracture. (try the aebleskivers, a delicious Scandinavian pastry and the cheese and ham omelet). Try Ingeborg’s Danish Chocolate Shop, across the street, for world-class chocolates and sweets.
But it was our hotel, two blocks away, the Hotel Corque, that was a highlight of our time in Solvang. Built 40 years ago and extensively renovated several years back, this is a lovely, 120 room hotel with on-site restaurant and bar, a spectacular two-story lobby, complete with roaring fireplace, love-seats and high-tech wine dispensing center. The fact we got an off-season, Sunday/Monday night rate of less than $100 per night made for a remarkable value in a room that typically goes for well more than double that price. The scores of quaint Solvang shops, restaurants and night spots surrounding this hotel makes it a wonderful center of operations!
Sanford Winery in nearby Lompoc is relatively small and homey; here Miles imparts to Jack the fine points of wine tasting, noting one tasting has “just a flutter of Edam cheese” and blisters Jack for chewing gum. They return to the Windmill Motel to spend the night (now the Sideways Inn) and walk a few blocks to the Hitching Post, where Maya (Virginia Madsen) waits tables; Miles recommends the ostrich steak. We stumbled upon the ostrich farm, by accident, and just blocks away, 610 E. Hwy. 246.
Fess Parker winery, 6200 Foxon Canyon Rd., passed as the lowbrow winery under the fake name, Frass Canyon, where a distraught Miles, having learned his novel won’t be published, attempts to drink the spit bucket. Since the movie, it’s been replaced by an even larger, modern winery, still worth the visit. Nearby Los Olivos also struck our fancy, with a bucolic downtown surrounded by stunning wine country. Nearby, Firestone winery, 5000 Zaca Station Rd. is where Jack, Stephanie, Maya, and Miles, bored by a long-winded wine lecturer, sneak into the Barrel room to get better acquainted.
After winetasting, we had a delicious dinner at the Los Olivos Café and Wine Merchant, 2879 Grand Ave., where the movie couples dine and sample 4 to 5 bottles, and Miles “drinks and dials”, phoning his ex-wife and putting a damper on the evening. Spouse Susan sampled a local Pinot Noir, sparked by the movie’s focus on the varietal; sales of Pinot jumped something like 16% based on the movie’s attention!
If you have time, the Santa Ynez Mission, (circa 1804) is nearby and the lovely coastal city of Santa Barbara is just 45 minutes away.
If you go
For more information: Sideways movie locations, Santa Barbara Visitor Bureau, santabarbaraca.com; see also movie-locations.com; Solvang, solvangusa.com.
Where are you traveling? Contact Tim, firstname.lastname@example.org; happy journeys.